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Louisiana stunt may cross river

By Sid Salter

The ubiquitous nine-banded armadillo — dasypus novemcinctus to smart folks and “Texas speed bumps” or “opossum on the half-shell” to the rest of us — is said to have made the journey from its native South America to North America across the Panamanian land bridge about 2.5 million years ago.

NASA’s Earth Observatory offers this succinct explanation: “The formation of the Isthmus of Panama also played a major role in biodiversity on our world. The bridge made it easier for animals and plants to migrate between the continents. For instance, in North America today, the opossum, armadillo and porcupine all trace back to ancestors that came across the land bridge from South America.”

Of course, for my purposes that’s a throwaway fact. I’m more interested in how the armadillo made it out of Texas, across Louisiana and then into Mississippi. Some say the things sidled across the Mississippi River bridges, or stowed away in a truck, or a river barge, or in a railroad car. Those are all exotic and highly plausible scenarios, of course.

But the more likely answer is that the mammal simply walked or swam or a combination of the two. Joyce Hoffman, a mammologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey’s Prairie Research Institute, told the Chicago Tribune’s Ted Gregory in 2005 that armadillos “can hold their breath for up to six minutes, which allows them to walk along river and lake bottoms. If an armadillo needs to swim, it can swallow air deep into its intestines for buoyancy. Those aquatic skills may explain in part” how armadillos really crossed the Mississippi.

What is inarguable is the fact that they did. Armadillos are one of Louisiana’s gifts to Mississippi. I shall leave it to you, gentle reader, to determine the worth of that gift. I like Ted Gregory’s writing on the topic, in which he observed: “In the Depression, when economically distressed people cooked and ate armadillos — they reportedly taste like pork — armadillos got the nickname Hoover Hogs, a jab at Herbert Hoover’s promise to put a chicken in every pot.”

But I digress. Seems the Louisiana House has just passed a measure that I fear may cross the Mississippi into our state much like the armadillo and with about the same worth. The Pelican State’s House voted 70-23 pass House Bill 1035, a bill to require their state’s fourth through sixth grade students to recite a portion of the Declaration of Independence at the beginning of school every day.

The passage: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Supporters argued that the passage emphasized equality and freedom. Opponents, particularly black lawmakers, pointed out that women and blacks were neither equal nor free at the time the Declaration of Independence was penned.

There was no small amount of debate over the propriety of forcing public school children to recite a passage recognizing a “Creator” in a setting that is supposed to recognize the separation of church and state.

Mississippi is expected to hold a legislative special session this month to address our state’s budget woes, which aren’t as bad as Louisiana’s but are significant. That after a long Mississippi legislative session mired in debate over House Bill 1523 and other needless controversies.

Here’s hoping that unlike the mighty armadillo, the “Declaration of Independence” recitation legislation doesn’t make it across the Mississippi River from our neighbors to the west. Here’s hoping that legislation gets flattened like the majority of highway-crossing armadillos. Leave it in Louisiana.

Because the armadillo — if one can escape the danger of contracting leprosy and a few other health concerns — is at the very least interesting and has a certain cultural appeal in the South and the West, forcing children to recite passages that the adult lawmakers who voted in favor of the legislation in Louisiana couldn’t recite without a cue card is just a colossal waste of time, money and legislative energy.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.